One Hundred Rifles and Two Cannon

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Major Blank’s adventure brought a pair of cannons into Lawrence during that city’s investment by proslavery forces. His entertaining escapade came of a piece with other arms smuggling. It forms a recurring theme in the secondary sources, but if anybody’s ever written a paper or book on running guns into Kansas, I’ve not heard of it. Likewise, the Herald of Freedom writes occasionally about Missourians obstructing the normal course of mail. This eventually required antislavery Kansans to operate their own mail route, lest their unhappy neighbors over the state line leave their letters and packages in a ditch somewhere. Major Blank’s story demonstrates that those parcels might include more than the proverbial fruitcakes and adult interest literature. The plain brown wrappers and anonymous wooden crates might conceal a small arsenal. If the Missourians came again, free state Kansans would only have more reason to appreciate their illicitly-transported guns.

The March 15 Herald of Freedom reports on such a shipment, partly by way of a piece from the Lexington, Missouri Express. The Express ran an extra to share the news that

The good steamer Arabia, Capt. John S. Shaw, arrived at our wharf about sunrise this morning. Immediately on landing, a committee was dispatched up town to inform our citizens that a person from Massachusetts was on board, having in his possession one hundred Sharp’s rifles and two cannon! destined for service in Kansas, and sent forward by the Massachusetts Aid Society.

Word got out about the crates, marked “Carpenters’ Tools,” when the man accompanying them dropped a letter. A cabin boy found it and handed it over to the captain.

The “most respectable and reliable citizens” of Lexington got together and decided that if a gaggle of Yankees wanted to send guns to Kansas, then they could do just that. They confronted “Mr. Start,” close kin to Major Blank, and convinced him to sign away the arms, “subject to requisition of Gov. Shannon or his successor in office.” If free state Kansans wanted guns shipped in for service in their territory, they could have them good and hard.

The Express would have you know that no hooliganism took place. They arrested the arms, not the man. Nobody suggested any violence against him.

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

George Brown knew a few things about arms smuggling, which he shared with his own readers. Yes, a man from “some part of the country in the East” set out for Kansas with his hundred rifles and two cannons. Said “gentleman” had not just fallen off the turnip cart; he knew full well he might have trouble crossing Missouri. Anybody could use the weapons, so he risked arming his enemies if he got caught. Thus when he came to St. Louis

he divided his freight and send the slides, the most important part of the guns, by land, and the balance he shipped up the river

The absence of the slides rendered the guns inoperable, so the smuggler had given over to Lexington some fancy wood and metal clubs. The slides reached Lawrence on March 12, along with, per Nichole Etcheson’s Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era, “ammunition, rifle primers, musket percussion caps, break pins for a cannon, and cannon molds.”

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